Historic Motorcycle Brands

Gnome & Rhône – ABC


The British ABC and French Gnome & Rhône companies were both major aircraft engine makers during World War I and both added motorcycle manufacturing to their portfolios. Gnome & Rhône made ABC-licensed bikes before designing its own.




1918 ABC 400cc –  Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles


The All British Engine Company Ltd of London was founded in 1912 and later changed to ABC Motors Ltd. From 1913 ABC produced motorcycle engines.

In 1918, ABC made a motorcycle with a 400cc, horizontally-opposed, flat-twin engine, mounted with its cylinders across the frame, several years before BMW adapted the design. (ABC challenged BMW’s use of this patented design in 1926.)


1919 ABC-Sopwith 400 cc engine – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles


In 1919, ABC jointly exhibited with the Sopwith Aviation & Engineering Co a Sopwith-branded ABC motorcycle at the annual Motor Cycle show. In addition to its float-twin engine the bike also featured a duplex cradle frame, front and rear leaf springs, ‘expanding’ brakes, wet sump lubrication and a four-speed gearbox. However, it needed to be ‘bump’ started.

The ABC 400 was made under licence by Sopwith and 2200 were produced. Later models had improved valve gear, speedometers, and electric lighting. Sidecar outfits were also produced as optional extras.


Gnome & Rhône


Gnome & Rhône insignia with radial aero engine dominant – DaiFh


French manufacturer Gnome & Rhône was the major producer of aircraft radial engines during World War I churning out around 100,00 self-made and licence-made models. Like ABC and Sopwith it decided to enter motorcycle production.

Like Sopwith Gnome & Rhône was impressed with ABC design and produced an improved 493cc version of this machine under licence until 1925. Between 1920 and 1924 Gnome & Rhône produced more than 3000 of the ‘French’ ABCs but relatively few have survived.


1920-1925 ABC-Gnome & Rhône – Joergens.mi


Although aero engine production was the company’s mainstay, it embarked on its own motorcycle designs, producing its in-house, single-cylinder and licensed flat-twin machines through the 1920s and 1930s, and throughout World War II.


1929 Gnome & Rhône M1 310cc Alf van Beem


Models included 3CV Type Junior (250cc); 4CV Major (500cc); 4CV Super Major (500cc); 5CV Type D5 (500cc); 5CV Type CV2 (500 cc); 5CV Type V2 (500cc) and Type X (750cc).


1930 Gnome & Rhône M1 350cc – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles


When the French Government nationalised the country’s aero-engine makers in 1945, forming Société Nationale d’Étude et de Construction de Moteurs d’Aviation (SNECMA), Gnome et Rhône and Avions-Voisin were absorbed into the new conglomerate. 


1934 Gnome & Rhône Moto Junior – Tangopaso


Following the reorganisation, Gnome et Rhône found itself a subsidiary of Société des Aéroplanes Voisin and both names appeared on the company’s motorcycles after WWII. 

Gnome et Rhône’s post-War swansong R-series was powered by a single-cylinder two-stroke engine built in unit with a three-speed gearbox. While the early R and R1 models displaced 100cc the 125cc R4’s piston-ported engine produced 6bhp, which was good enough for a top speed of 85km/h. 


Post- War R4 engine. Note changed SNECMA logo – Bonhams


Despite their relatively small size and modest specification, these little two-strokes demonstrated surprising durability and speed. The French motorcycling press reported in 1949 that three students rode R3s from Paris to New Delhi  – a distance of approximately 18,000 kilometres –  and Gustave Bernard dashed from Paris to Madrid in 23 hours 15 minutes on an R4.

Aircraft engine and aerospace developments became SNECMA’s priorities after 1950.

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